Hang(Y)ing With the Chinese Exchange

Clay Canfield “He looks just like you!” This was the first thing my mother said when she met my Chinese exchange student, Ying. Ying sported a North Face jacket, khaki pants, and basketball shoes, and he had the same haircut as me. He told me he liked to watch sports, play video games, and that his favorite subject was math. My mother was right. At first, Ying and I didn’t seem all that different. We got along right away. On Ying’s first night at my house, we played tennis, foam rolled, spent a few hours playing Grand Theft Auto, and Ying tried his first plate of lasagna. After dinner, my mom made Ying and I some brownies. When the brownies came out of the oven, Ying gave me a confused look, pulled out his phone, and then showed me a Google Translate screen that read, “I have never seen these things before.” I told him that it was dessert and that I thought he would like it. Ying took his first bite, and euphoria struck his face. Ying later told me that chocolate brownies were the most wonderful thing he’d ever tasted. Having an exchange student is like going through your day with a partner who sees every part of your normal routine as an adventure. After his priceless reaction to brownies, I decided to make it my goal to give Ying as many new experiences as possible. Throughout the week, I was by Ying’s side during his first time playing squash, his first Chicago-style hot dog, and his first time seeing Blue Man Group. Over the weekend, I took Ying to the Lincoln Park Zoo, where we stopped for every animal, traversing window to window where Ying would say “woahhhh” with genuine curiosity and thrill to every single exhibit. We walked on the lakefront where Ying pointed out to me that he had never seen a frozen-over lake, a Divvy bike, or a woman jogging while pushing a stroller. He would point at something, and I would do my best to explain what it was. Every new experience was joyful and unfamiliar for Ying; his excitement was infectious. On our last day together, when I was dropping Ying off at school to leave Chicago, my little sister offered him some hand sanitizer. Ying looked at me with that same confused look on his face and showed me a Google Translate screen that read “how do I use this?” and I knew that my objective to expose him to every possible American experience had failed. Five days was not enough time, but my short stay with Ying provided me with a valuable perspective on how different our cultures are, despite the fact that on the surface we seemed similar. Hosting an exchange student is a great way for anyone to expose themselves to a new culture.]]>